Those of you who followed my last blog might remember my very first post, which explained my blog title. One of the people part of the story behind that title resurfaces here, as she was delightfully involved in this blog title as well. Not too long ago, I asked this wise and quirky friend for some help coming up with a blog title. In a matter of seconds, she replied, “cabinets of wonder.

“What?” I asked, not knowing what she meant. She went on to describe these wonder cabinets to me, and then told me why she thought the way I experience the world and find keepsakes in the form of small trinkets and postcards but also in words and people is why a title like this made sense for me. Well. I learned a lot that afternoon, and I credit Miss “Patty Mae” for, once again, being part of the inspiration behind this blog. I tip my hat and keepsakes to you, my dear.

***

‘Cabinets of wonder’ (also known as wonder cabinets, cabinets of curiosities, Wunderkammer, or Kunstkammer) were collections of objects in Renaissance Europe that were regarded as “a microcosm and memory theater of the world.” They have an extensive history, and while I’m by no means an expert on these fascinating containers of life, I want to tell you about their story.

17th century Cabinet of Wonder

Wonder cabinets are said to have been eclectic early precursors to museums in 16th and 17th century Europe (though they were private back then, not public). As one historian explains, “Affluent households would create a wonder cabinet – often an entire room rather than a cabinet – filled with artworks, natural specimens, and oddities.” The main function of a wonder cabinet was to provoke a sense of curiosity in the viewer; in many ways, it represented a worldview that valued the ‘wonder’ in an artifact much more than the need to analyze and classify that artifact. Wonder cabinets were all about encouraging people to experience a sense of wonder in all kinds of things in the world, from a Turkish emperor’s golden seal to a Spanish ship’s holy relics to Javanese costumes. Their aim was to help make connections across various fields and disciplines of human knowledge and to help viewers “experiment with rearranging and classifying parts of the world (and the connections between them) in many different ways.”

a Christmas market in Stuttgart, Germany // December 2009

Who would’ve thought that placing objects next to each other in a certain fashion could evoke memories and provide broad and rich sets of visual associations? And such ‘found objects’ (back then and now, in the everyday) are said to capture the imagination of the finder, which is why they’re often kept as keepsakes. When was the last time you found something on some ground in the world – a penny, a seashell, a pretty stone, an unusual piece of metal – that you picked up and kept, as a curiosity, a small keepsake, a good luck charm?

mural in Philadelphia // April 2008

I do this so often, almost without realizing it. I think most of us have numerous objects or trinkets that are associated with a trip, a unique memory, or an important time period of our lives. I read that for many, “the connotations of mystery about where {a certain object} comes from and the sense that it is simply a ‘free gift from the world’ can add to the sense of wonder surrounding a found object.”

some collect beads.. (Ghana, 2010)
..others, books (Chicago, 2009)

I’m all about remembering. I have four or five “memory boxes” full of mementos from my childhood in long-term storage units in both Virginia and Germany. I carry around small notebooks that I record observations and thoughts in, and I’ve recently taken to carrying around a voice recorder that I use to record certain sounds of different places; the sounds of communal cooking with my friends in Ghana, the music of a man playing his accordion on a street in Athens. I keep certain words of wisdom close to my heart and make sure I leave every new country I visit with a postcard and at least a phrase or two of the language of the people there. I collect things to wonder about, I suppose, and I have many more questions than I do answers. But that’s where the fun lies for me. That’s how I navigate my way through this world.

So, this whole concept and history of wonder cabinets really appeals to me. I plan to continue learning about them, and meanwhile, use this blog as a sort of wonder cabinet in itself. Maybe you, readers, will find something on display here that makes you look at the world a little differently. It’s my hope you’ll find something that strikes you as curious, something that you connect with in your own way. A true student of a liberal arts education, I believe boundaries are meant to overlap, be blurred, rough up against one another. And so, while keeping my family and friends up to date with my unfolding adventures (check out the ‘About’ section above), I think I’ll also take this opportunity to wonder, wonder, wonder out loud.

North Carolina // March 2009
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2 thoughts on “curiosities of many sorts

  1. Natalie, this is Joe; I enjoyed your previous website, and really like the theme for this one. You have a true gift for writing!

  2. Hi Natalie!
    I am about a month behind on your blogs, but just jumped ahead to yesterday.. We are happy that you are on the mend and sending prayers your way. We miss you.

    Love,
    Noreen & Wayne

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